Woody Allen, a Film About Film, and Hitchcock: Movie Tickets

Washingtonian’s guide to the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week

By: Ian Buckwalter

Rope
A famous crime served as the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s first color film, a taut psychological thriller adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s play, which was based loosely on a 1924 murder committed by university students Leopold and Loeb. Color wasn’t the only innovation Hitchcock went after in telling the story of two young men out to commit a Nietzschian “perfect crime”: He also attempted a formal innovation, trying to make the film appear to unfold in real, unbroken time by filming long takes that lasted the entirety of a ten-minute reel and by hiding most of the cuts with objects passing in front of the camera and momentarily blacking out the frame when it was time to change reels.

It’s easy to write off the technique as a gimmick, and Hitch himself felt it was a failed experiment, which could explain why the movie fell out of circulation for many years. But beyond the graceful technical artistry that kept the film from feeling overly stagey, it’s far better than its director ever gave it credit for, and it still stands head and shoulders above many modern attempts to create real-time thrillers. The murderous pair’s decision to put the body of their victim in a wooden chest that serves as the centerpiece of a dinner party they’re throwing gives the movie the raw-nerve, sweaty-palmed anxiety of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a feeling of overriding tension that more than makes up for any minor deficiencies in Hitchcock’s experiment with form. 

Rope screens Saturday, and Tuesday-Thursday at the AFI Silver Theater.


International Festival of Films on Art
For nearly 30 years, Montreal has hosted an annual festival celebrating films that celebrate or study other works of art. The National Gallery of Art is hosting a series of screenings that feature some of the best films from the 2010 festival. Saturday’s program has three short features, on Les Jardins de Métris botanical gardens, the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and American graphic designer Milton Glaser. Sunday has one Dutch documentary about the Rijksmusum in Amsterdam, and on Memorial Day there are another three selections, on the artistic director of Jazz Life magazine, Boris Vian, the Cinémathèque Royale in Belgium, and Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony.

Saturday at 2:30 PM, Sunday and Monday at 2 PM, at the National Gallery of Art. Free.

 

Midnight in Paris
A lot of people like to write Woody Allen off these days, pointing to two decades worth of uneven output. But the only reason he’s still around for folks to continue to dismiss is that between the middling-to-bad works such as Whatever Works and Anything Else, he’s still capable of true gems like Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Midnight in Paris is just such a gem, a romantic fantasy that harks back to the magical realism of Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo from 1985. Owen Wilson plays the usual Allen-esque stand-in as a Hollywood writer who is tired of writing vapid blockbusters and wants to be a novelist. While on a trip to Paris with his materialistic fiancée, Wilson’s character pines for the romantic artists’ Paris of the ’20s, only to find that at midnight every night, waiting at the right street corner, he can catch a car to just that time. The film is at once a charming homage to the creative spirit of the long-gone Paris of Hemingway, Picasso, and Fitzgerald, but also a sly bit of self-criticism from Allen, who knows only too well the inclination to view the past through deceptively rose-colored glasses.

Opens Friday at number of area theaters.

 

13 Assassins
Takashi Miike is frighteningly prolific, working at a clip rivaled only by German workaholic Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Miike has made more than 50 films in 20 years, and that’s to say nothing of the television episodes, music videos, and straight-to-video works he’s found time for as well. American audiences get Miike’s output pre-filtered by international distributors, so we tend to get only his highest-profile work, the latest of which is 13 Assassins, a remake of a 1963 samurai epic by Eiichi Kudo. The film centers on the titular assassins and their plan to take out a young nobleman, who is beginning to ascend a little too high on the political ladder for the tastes of his rivals and has a penchant for rape and murder. Miike, true to his controversial and violent reputation, is more graphic in representing the lord’s crimes than the 1963 version was, and he stages the final battle as a bloodbath that occupies most of the last third of the film. This may sound gratuitous, but the Miike’s take on the mythos and brotherhood of the samurai is earning the director some of his best reviews in recent memory. 

Opens Friday at E Street Cinema.

 

These Amazing Shadows
A film about film preservation might not seem like the most fascinating documentary subject, but when Those Amazing Shadows premiered at Sundance this year, it received solid notices. The film looks at the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, which every year adds as many as 25 films to its list of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” that it works to preserve. The documentary’s producers interview members of the registry’s board, along with directors including Christopher Nolan, Rob Reiner, and John Water, to talk about what makes a film significant. For a movie lover, any discussion of genuine adoration for great cinema can be compelling to watch, and the documentarians know that the cornerstone of any good documentary about the movies is plenty of clips of the movies themselves. The archival clip show is a big part of the attraction to the film in many of those festival reviews, and if Those Amazing Shadows is anything like the excellent cinematography documentary Visions of Light, you’ll come out of the theater with more than just a better understanding of how the National Film Registry works: You’ll have a long list of films to add to your Netflix queue when you get home as well.

Opens Friday at West End Cinema.

 

New DVD/Blu-ray Pick of the Week: Le Mans 
Long before car-racing movies were required by Hollywood decree to have “fast” and/or “furious” in the title, the most celebrated tribute to the need for speed was this Steve McQueen vehicle about an American driver returning to one of racing’s most grueling endurance tests—24 hours circling a 13-kilometer stretch of road and track near Le Mans, France, after having crashed badly there the year before. The film takes a documentary-style interest in the finer technical details of the race, combining the realistic camera work with vivid color and thrilling race sequences. It’s a good thing the racing is so heart-pounding because the off-the-track plot is fairly bland. The action on the asphalt and McQueen’s typically magnetic presence mean that Le Mans provides more than enough entertainment for a Saturday evening in.

Special Features: Minimal extras in this re-release, but there is a 25-minute documentary on the making of the film. The main “special” attraction here is the vivid color and pristine HD transfer of this classic.